4 Subtle Signs You May Be In A Toxic Relationship, From A Psychologist

mbg Founder & Co-CEO By Jason Wachob
mbg Founder & Co-CEO
Jason Wachob is the Founder and Co-CEO of mindbodygreen and the author of Wellth.
mindbodygreen Podcast Guest Perpetua Neo

Toxic relationships don't always start out so overtly destructive—rather, it's usually a host of underlying issues that build up and up until one or both parties start feeling trapped, controlled, or drained. Perpetua Neo, DClinPsy, would agree: "It starts off with very tiny stuff that on the surface, when you look at them individually, they just seem so petty," she notes on this episode of the mindbodygreen podcast. "We could think of them as microaggressions." 

That doesn't mean you should brush them aside: It might be difficult in the moment, but compiling these issues all together can help you see your relationship with fresh eyes—and determine whether it's truly healthy. 

Below, Neo reveals four common—yet subtle—signs of a toxic relationship. It's nonexhaustive, of course, but these are some of the signals to watch out for: 

1. "You're so sensitive."

This is a prime example of gaslighting (aka, the manipulation technique that may make you question your reality), says Neo, especially when you call out bad, rude, or disrespectful behavior. Over time, you may even start to second-guess yourself: Perhaps you start rationalizing their behavior, Neo notes, "Or say, 'You know what, maybe I was crazy. Maybe I was sensitive.' Then over time, you really lose yourself."  

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2. "I'm more experienced than you," or "I'm older than you."

Another signal, says Neo, is if that person always positions themselves as the savior—one that's smarter, wiser, and more experienced than you, so they deserve more respect. "They erode your sense of trust and confidence in yourself," says Neo, and make you feel like you "need" them for everything. Again, adds Neo, this toxic trait can cause you to lose your sense of self.

3. "I'm suffering more than you."

It's not so much the statement itself as the sentiment behind it. According to Neo, someone who revels in the attention they get from suffering (and believe their pain is more important than others') is classic covert narcissism. "They're addicted to the trauma, and it's always a race to the bottom in terms of suffering," she says. In their mind, they're dealing with the most special, unique case of suffering that's superior to yours. 

4. "I don't like this person." 

OK, not everyone has to get along. According to Neo, though, if your partner or friend doesn't play nice with others for the sole purpose of isolating you—that's where you may have a problem. "They will try to [steer] you away from the other people in your lives so that they will be the one [go-to] source," she says. 

It's especially concerning if they tell you their misgivings about your friends or family members when you're most impressionable—like if you're half-asleep or buzzed. "They will tell you when you're suggestible or vulnerable," Neo says. "Anything they can do to isolate you." 

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The takeaway. 

Subtle signs of a toxic relationship are important—that's because bad behavior starts to show in small doses. "They're testing the waters," says Neo. "They have to do it systematically to see how much you're willing to take." That's not to say if your partner or friend utters any of the four phrases above they're immediately bad news; just be aware of the signs, and always stay true to yourself—your feelings are important and valid, and the person you're with should embrace them. 

Enjoy this episode and don't forget to subscribe to our podcast on iTunes, Google Podcasts, or Spotify!

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